Oregon Recreational Use Statute used by US Forest Service to stop claim by injured snowmobiler

Case does an excellent job of explaining the requirements that must be met to support a motion to dismiss.

Stringer v. United States Department of Agriculture, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 150168

State: Oregon, United States District Court for the District of Oregon

Plaintiff: Daniel T. Stringer

Defendant: US Forest Service, United States Department of Agriculture,

Plaintiff Claims:

Defendant Defenses: Recreational Use Statute

Holding: For the Defendant

Year: 2014

The plaintiff was with a group of people who rented snowmobiles and then drove them to the Deschutes National Forest. The plaintiff started to go snowmobiling with a group. On their way there the plaintiff took off across a field that was not with the other members of the group.

The plaintiff’s snowmobile went over a 15’ embankment where he suffered injuries.

The plaintiff sued the defendant US Forest Service for his injuries. This is the motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s complaint because of the Oregon Recreational Use Statute.

Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.

The court started by explaining in detail the steps necessary to dismiss a complaint on a Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss.

To begin with a “complaint must contain sufficient factual matter that “state[s] a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” A claim is plausible when “the factual allegations allow the court to infer the defendant’s liability based on the alleged conduct.” The factual allegations must present more than the “the mere possibility of misconduct.”

While considering a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept all allegations of material fact as true and construe them in the light most favorable to the non-movant. However, the Court is “not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” If the complaint is dismissed, leave to amend should be granted unless the court “determines that the pleading could not possibly be cured by the allegation of other facts.”

Consequently the court can dismiss a claim when the court finds the facts, even if pleading more than simple claim of injury do not support the necessary steps to prove the plaintiff’s claim. The plaintiff’s complaint requires more than mere allegations.

The first issue was whether the United States could use a state statute as a defense to a claim.

The liability of the United States is determined “in the same manner and to the same extent as a private individual in like circumstances.” Because plaintiff’s accident occurred in Oregon, this action is governed by Oregon law.

The court then looked at the Oregon Recreational Use Statute, ORS § 105.682. Like most recreational use statutes, a landowner is not liable for injuries if they do not charge for the use of their land.

The plaintiff argued that because the defendant charged for use of the land at other locations in the Deschutes Forest the defendant, Forest Service could not rely on the recreational use statute. Here the US Forest Service charged to use the land to ski and to camp. However, the plaintiff was not camping or skiing, nor whether they are engaging in an activity at the location where fees are charged to ski or camp.

A fee charged at one end of the Deschutes National Forest cannot, as a matter of public policy, waive immunity at the other end of the same forest, thousands of miles away, simply because the government made a charge.

There must be some relationship between the fee charged and the activity which the plaintiff engaged in which caused his injury.

So Now What?

This case lays out an easy analysis to understand the requirements to win a motion to dismiss. Motions to dismiss are usually filed prior to the answer of the defendant being filed and are done so when the plaintiff’s claim fails in all respects to present any evidence which the court can find to support the claims of the plaintiff.

If the motion to dismiss is not granted the defendant is instructed to file their answer and discovery begins. After or during discovery, one or more of the parties can file a motion for summary judgment. A motion for summary judgment is normally how a case is dismissed prior to trial. Motions to dismiss are rarely granted.

In this case, the next motion would have probably been based on the fact the plaintiff assumed the risk by taking off, off the trail when he crashed.

This is also instructional in showing the defendant United States through any of its land-management agencies, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, US Forest Service, Bureau of Reclamation or US Fish & Wildlife Service.

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By Recreation Law       Rec-law@recreation-law.com              James H. Moss

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